April 22nd – Happy Birthday Papa


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The heart monitor beeped steadily. The morning nurse gently tapped the half full IV bag as she checked in on my Father. She nodded and left the room. The room reeked of disinfectant. I hesitantly looked at Mom, my forehead  shrunk into a frown. “So? He looks ok, right? Why did you wake me up?” I complained, annoyed at being shaken awake in the wee hours of the morning. I’d spent the night with Mom at the hospital. My Father, Papa as we called him, lay in the post operative ward at the National Institute of Mental Sciences, Bangalore, recovering from a brain surgery performed the previous day. I hadn’t slept well and my groggy self grumbled more than usual. Mom moved closer to me. “Papa opened his eyes this morning. He asked for you – first thing,” she whispered. “Asked for me? How come?” I said shifting on my feet, my discomfort made obvious. Mom shrugged. “Ok? What do I do now?” I continued, uncertain. Mom’s gaze dropped down at him. He stirred under the white sheets. His eyes struggled open as I looked down. He gave me a wan lopsided smile and raised his hand. I diffidently reached for it and curled my fingers around his big palm. He gripped it tight. As tight as a sick man could.  His eyes swelled up in tears. I tried to control mine. Eventually I relented, pursed my lips tight, and let it flood down my cheeks. I Bent down and kissed his ashen forehead. He heaved a long sigh of relief.

As a fall out from years of being (or thought to being) ignored  by my Old man I grew up feeling very indifferent towards him. Though on rare occasions the apathy turned 180 and churned into strong emotions of resentment and frustration, most of the time I remained smug and  complacent around him with very little interaction and totally avoiding conversations beyond a yes, no or a maybe. I simply considered my Father to be my material provider which no doubt he did a pretty good job at. He definitely made sure We, his four girls – a niece and three daughters, received adequate mental and physical stimulation. We were allowed to take as many classes as we were interested, attend as many camps as we liked, had all the sporting goods and games sufficient to engage a battalion.  But obviously, there was a problem. With my 20-20 vision of envy, I saw my Father dote a tad bit more on his first-ling, my sister Sony, saw that he had immense appreciation for his bright child, Sophie and a soft corner for his niece, Jasmine. I realized I couldn’t forgive him because he was almost exhausted when it came to me.

That early morning, in the summer of 1999 when Papa called for me I welcomed it with greedy, wide opened hands. I was glad he had though of me first. I know I was unhealthily needy  and I’m embarrassed of admitting it too. But truth be told, I was in a really dark place and desperately could do with some healing. I so wanted to stop criticizing what I didn’t understand. In my subconscious mind I knew Papa had very little time and I didn’t want to spend the rest of it looking away when people praised his liberal thinking, graceful humility and generosity. I needed to admit he was a noble man of whom I had every reason in the world to be proud of.  And so that morning when Papa trumped me, when despite  his pain and sufferings he thought it necessary to show his deprived child that she was important, that gesture was my catharsis and at long last it brought about the much necessary change in my perception of him.

I realize my Father was just a human being like all of us.  Born with flaws and mortality. But in his short but exemplary life he helped me see that greatness could be achieved in spite of them.

Four years later from that day, my Father lost his battle with cancer and died leaving behind many who dearly loved and missed him. And I, was one of them.

Ragi Roti – Spiced Finger Millet Flat bread

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 Vendakka Stew – Okra in Coconut Milk Gravy


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Ghee Roast – Plain Dosa

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2 Responses to “April 22nd – Happy Birthday Papa”

  1. Sushma says:

    Julie, Your post brought tears…very close to my heart too as I lost my dad 14 years ago in an accident. He was a doctor and hardly had time for us and I thought he did not care enough to take some time off and be with us. Well, now I know he was trying to provide a good education and life for his family (including his 10 siblings)…because he did that, we are in a good position today financially and did not have to struggle. Now that I am a parent, I totally understand why he did some of the things he did. Miss him dearly!!

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